Cruising has become the quintessential modern holiday with an estimated 32 million passengers taking to the seas globally in 2020, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) predictions. In particular, Australia’s love of cruise ships has continued to grow at a significant pace, with a total of 1,240 cruise ships visiting the country in 2018.

Cruise tourism also contributed $3.5bn to the Australian economy in 2018 – a faster growth rate than the US and Europe and an increase of over 11% from the previous year, according to the latest report by CLIA Australasia and the Australian Cruise Association (ACA).

As GlobalData’s travel and tourism analyst Johanna Bonhill-Smith puts it: “With the key leaders within the cruise industry involving Australia on an array of itineraries, cruise tourism in the destination plays a significant role within the overall tourism industry.”

Moreover, cruisers travelling around Australia are not just comprised of international tourists. Australia’s cruise industry is booming with growth largely driven by the 1.35 million New Zealanders choosing to cruise in Australasian waters in 2018.

Why is cruise a hit with the locals?

“With a highly urban population, domestic travel is becoming more centred on areas with natural environments.”

For a variety of reasons, Australia is a popular cruise destination for locals, with affordable costs compared to alternative transport such as air being the key driver.

Bonhill-Smith adds that cruise companies are now developing cheaper itineraries which are enabling domestic travellers “to venture to areas that may have previously proved costly or difficult to reach with more rural locations across Western and Southern Australia attracting more domestic travellers”.

“With a highly urban population, domestic travel is becoming more centred on areas with natural environments,” she adds.

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Shorter cruise durations are also proving popular. “Bitesize breaks – a break away for a short amount of time – is also spurring domestic travellers to venture by sea rather than alternative forms of transport,” Bonhill-Smith says.

The CLIA report revealed that the average cruise length reduced from 9.1 days in 2017 to 8.8 days in 2018 and is estimated to reduce to seven days in 2020.

Understanding the target market is important

“Tourism boards and operators should be looking at ways to create more specialised forms of travel.”

If cruise owners are to capitalise on the growing numbers, Bonhill-Smith says that they must prioritise personalisation as well as focus on the experience economy. “Around 85% of Australian travellers are now always, often and somewhat influenced by how a product is tailored to their needs,” she says.

“Tourism boards and operators that are [showcasing] iconic destinations should be looking at ways to create more specialised forms of travel, capitalising on niche tourism to better service a traveller’s needs throughout the customer’s journey.”

More importantly, Bonhill-Smith adds that it is imperative to use modern technologies such as machine learning to capture the likes and dislikes of their customers. “Tour operators should be looking to fully understand their market base through data analysis in the search to provide that ultimate personal experience,” she continues.

Ill-equipped ports are leaving cruisers high and dry

“A lack of berthing capacity in Sydney has hampered cruise lines’ efforts to expand their operations.”

Australia’s passion for cruising is, however, causing various problems such as capacity constraint.

With one in 17 Australians being enamoured with domestic cruising in 2018 – a number only set to increase as stated in CLIA’s report, it’s no surprise that 19 new cruise ships are to debut in 2020 to cater to the escalating demand.

However, deploying more ships is not the only solution. Australian ports are not prepared to accommodate the growth.

In the words of CLIA Australasia’s managing director Joel Katz: “While cruising continues to be exceptionally popular among Australian travellers after many years of growth, a lack of berthing capacity in Sydney has hampered cruise lines’ efforts to expand their operations.”

To tackle the issue, port developments have been announced across Queensland, Melbourne and Brisbane, with planned construction to develop both the domestic and outbound cruise industry over the next few years.

The construction of a new $158m International Cruise Terminal in Brisbane and projects announced in Cairns, Eden and Broome will further help accommodate the increasing numbers. A third port for Sydney could be finally on the cards, with plans submitted to the NSW government in 2019.

Staying on top of sustainability

“Operators should continuously be looking at how to operate in more responsible and sustainable ways.”

While financial gains caused by growing numbers is the main motivating factor for cruise owners, Bonhill-Smith says that sustainability must be at the forefront.

“In order to be successful in the future, cruise operators will have to look for ways to decrease [their] environmental impact, whether using cleaner fuels to decrease emissions [or] creating innovative [methods] for waste disposal,” she adds.

“As long as a sustainable approach is adopted, the benefits of cruise tourism have the potential to be extremely significant to a local community.”

Bonhill-Smith says that governmental bodies alongside tourism boards should be heavily involved with local stakeholders, tour operators and port overseers to continuously monitor the social and economic impacts of tourism within a local area.

“Constant collaboration is integral to success as operators should continuously be looking at how to operate in more responsible and sustainable ways,” she says.